On Distro Names: Ubuntu, S.u.S.E. (er, SUSE) and Red Hat

It hit me this week how great of a name Ubuntu is. Despite being a Zulu word from South Africa, it rolls off the tongue so nicely regardless of your language. At least, that is my hunch, anyway. Here is why I say it. Earlier this week, I was hanging out with a friend who almost never uses a computer. I fired up my Kubuntu laptop to show him something online. He saw the word "Kubuntu" pop up and was simply moved to verbalize it. "Kooo-BOOOOOON-toooo" he crooned, and then he smiled and said "Awesome, what's that!?"

A few days later another non-geek friend was in my office, and out of all of my books, geeky and not, he singled out Ubuntu Unleashed and asked me "Neat name, what is that book about?" That was my lead in to give him a quick tour of Ubuntu Linux and show him how cool, useful and easy-to-use it is.

I have long been sensitive to product names because I used to work for SUSE well before the Novell days. When I started in '97, the Germans were still focused on the German market and using the German acronym S.u.S.E., meaning "Software und System Entwicklung", or "sofware and system development". (No wonder Shakespeare wasn't German, eh?) Our team was confounded on what to do with the name for North America and Asia. Leave it 'as is'? Keep the German pronunciation? Somehow Anglicize the pronunciation? On our trade-show signage we offered a pronunciation clue, which I think went like this: "SUE-zuh". So much for creative naming.

During that time, I was so envious of Red Hat for its creative name. They had this great, memorable symbol, a prominent color, and they could wear red hats around to build their brand. Yellow Dog Linux is another great name for similar reasons, sans hat wearing.

Now, 11 years later and after this week's experiences, I have to say that Ubuntu has stolen my heart for best name. We're fortunate that Mark Shuttleworth and team chose such a beautiful name for a Linux distribution because it acts as a sort of friendly envoy that opens doors and hearts for people to learn about our awesome operating system.

"Oooo-BOOOOOON-toooo!!!" :D


James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.


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PC Linux OS

lapubell's picture

worst name ever.


tracyanne's picture

Kub unto also not very nice sounding


tracyanne's picture

Kub unto also not very nice sounding

Actually it's quite ugly

tracyanne's picture

Ubuntu - You Bun Too

Name Choices

Phil Hughes's picture
I think an interesting article would be to look at where the various distribution names came from. From Pat Volkerding's Slackware to Ian Murdock's Debian, this is a story to be told.

For example, the following is from the 1994 edition of Marc Ewing's Red Hat Software Linux manual preface:

Since everyone asks, I used to have a red hat that was my granfather's old Cornell lacross hat from way way back. I lost it somewhere in Philadelphia a few years back. If you know where it is send it my way for a generous reward :-).

I'm not sure if his offer still stands.

For extra credit, what was the email address he used prior to his redhat.com one?

Phil Hughes